12 peaks in 12 months – that’s what I’m doing in 2013. Every month, I’ll be climbing a different Southern California mountain, just for kicks.
To kick things off, I traveled on January 18 out to the Providence Mountains with Matt Snelson. 250 miles from home, out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, lies a spike of rugged granite and iron jutting above the surrounding desert. The 7129′ top of that range is called Edgar Peak, and getting to the summit is a 4-6 hour climb over boulders and cactus. There are no trails, and no other human beings for miles around. To make matters even more complicated, the Providence Mountains have been closed since 2011 – a victim of California’s budget slashing State Park closures. Technically, we aren’t even supposed to be there, and the closed gate at the park entrance means another hour and a half of hiking on the road.
So after waking up at 3:15am and driving four hours in the dark, we hit the trail. This is how it went down.
We were on the lookout for rangers all day. The park closure wasn’t really meant to keep people off the mountain, I’d suspect, but rather to keep vandals out of the visitor center and nearby Mitchell Caverns. Nevertheless, we were breaking the letter of the law, and I didn’t want any hassle from a bored lawman.
Despite hitting the trail at 7:30am, we still had to do some hiking on the return trip in the dark. As we neared my car, parked a hundred yards or so outside the park gate, we saw headlights coming up the road. Essex road is 16 miles long, and leads nowhere except to the closed park we were in, so we immediately thought “oh shit, somebody’s coming back to stake us out at the gate.” Then we noticed that the vehicle looked pretty large – about 30 feet long – and had running lights. It started turning perpendicular to the road, and that’s when out tired, paranoid minds jumped to “tow truck!”, and I started running down the road the last couple hundred yards to our car. Of course, the car was perfectly legal outside the state park, and towing us would have been the height of cruelty, stranding two hikers a day’s walk from civilization with no water, where overnight temps reached into the 20s… but fear can be more powerful than reason after 10 hours of hiking over cactus, so I ran despite loud complaints from my feet, knees, shoulders, and lungs. And of course, it just turned out to be an RV, camping overnight on their way up to Morro Bay.
Our reward for an arduous day of hiking? Steak and shrimp at the Sizzler in Barstow. It was simultaneously as good and as terrible as I had hoped.